One unique aspect of our studio is that we incorporate opportunities for tactile sensory play into our weekly themes. Many of our artists have notable hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to tactile input in their daily lives. Therefore, we include projects and the activities on our “sensory table” that can promote a greater tolerance for textures that might make us uncomfortable or provide textures that kids may seek out and neeeeeeeeeed to touch. Seriously, have you ever played with kinetic sand or oobleck?
We think it is important that our artists are exposed to messy, sticky, wet, rough, slimy or powdery media. These textures are all present in our daily lives, and if we have the opportunity to play with them in this controlled environment (art room), then we can work on our impulsivity to touch, avoidance of touch, and overall tactile sensory integration.
Our hands are amazing. They are, quite possibly, the most useful parts of our bodies. Hands are a key component to art-making (and pretty much every other facet of our existence). Our ability to make art starts at the earliest stages of our development. As babies, motor movements are often reflexive. Once babies begin to interact with their environment, their movement patterns become volitional and begin to override their reflexes. These multi-sensory play experiences form the foundation for higher level skill development. For babies and toddlers, hand and finger strength is built through play. They see a toy, they grab it with their tiny little hands. They want to manipulate it to get it into their mouth, they have to work really hard at it. With practice, those movements become more fluid and they move toward mastery. As children become more independent, learning to feed and dress themselves and mimicking our activities, the fine motor demands grow exponentially.
The process of completing a simple drawing task, painting a picture, or molding a dish out of clay is a multi-sensory experience that demands much from our artists small hands. Each week, we create opportunities to promote the development of finger strength. This week was no exception! As they became scientists working in our “lab” they used their pincers to drop colored vinegar onto a tray of baking soda, they used pencil and sharpie to draw their beakers and test tubes, and they squeezed out drops of food coloring to dye their sugar solutions. All the while, they didn’t realize that they were building strength, dexterity and finger endurance!
As I’ve said before, I am not an artist. This may sound a bit odd coming from an art teacher, but I can think of no better fit for me right now. By profession, I am a pediatric occupational therapist, but in my mind, I am the next Martha Stewart. This combination has worked well when I want to have clients work out of their comfort zone during therapy. We make play dough, we try new foods, and we craft away, all the while building fine motor, visual motor, and sensory motor skills. When I was ready to transition out of the private clinic and school system, teaching art classes seemed like the perfect solution. Lucky for me, my partner in crime is able to fill in my gaps of expertise in the art realm.
If you sit down to think about it, there are so many therapeutic benefits to art. In fact, there is an entire field dedicated to art therapy. What we do, however, is not art therapy. It is therapeutic art. Occupational therapy was founded on the idea that there is a natural, therapeutic benefit to performing our activities of daily living, whatever those may be. For example, to put on a pair of shoes, or make a cup of tea, you would need to engage many sensory systems, use several muscle and movement systems, and have the endurance to work until completion. The same is true for art. In order to complete a paint-by-number, you would need your visual system, fine motor control, and sufficient endurance for both to complete the entire page. Coming up with the projects each week is one of the best aspects of running an art program. Being creative, problem solving, and practicing the projects to “perfection”. But even more fun that that is watching the faces of our artists as they show off their finished project, so proud, and so accomplished!
Each week, when our artists leave class, they get a fun and informative take home sheet. This is our chance to share the “why” behind the projects we choose and how parents can support this at home. One of the benefits to our classes is the suggestions we provide to assist parents so our artists can carry over the skills learned in art class to home and school. Here is an example from one of our classes a couple years ago:
Sometimes the take home sheets offer ways to extend a project, recreate a project, or do it in a different way. Other times it will provide community activities related to our subject matter, complimentary activities to build skills, or commercially available products that you can purchase to promote the skills worked on during class.
Intermediate Art started out as a regular drawing class. We worked on all the basics. In Intermediate Art, we also do a LOT of talking. Mostly, I do a lot of talking. The students in IA last year were very introspective and self-aware. We had some very deep conversations. It was really cool. To quote my son’s kindergarten teacher, it really “filled my bucket”. Something we talked quite a bit about is something so essential to art and identifying as an artist: communication. Art is communication. Whether it’s happy, sad, literal, or abstract, whatever we make communicates a message. Intermediate Art is kind of like a club. A special group of friends that bond over their passion for creativity. Ms. Kristin and I decided Intermediate Art needed a new name that represents what it really is. An art club. This year, we have officially renamed Intermediate Art. From today on, the artists formally known as Intermediate Artists will now be in Art Club!!!
Art Club got very clever last year with the use of line and space, making these beautiful contour line pumpkins filled with their own Zentangles. Aren’t they expressive?!
As my kids went back to school today, I left them and couldn’t help thinking all day about how they were doing. Were they having a good day at school? We all do this to some degree. Perhaps less as they get older. When my kiddos came home, I asked them about 100 questions and only a couple were responded to with more than a 1 word answer. Good. Fine. Stuff. It got me thinking, how can we communicate how we feel about an experience without being literal? Through design! Why not ask our kids to use lines and patterns to show us what their day was like?
Here’s an example of one that starts with a squiggly line and ends like this.
Something so simple can tell us so much about how our kids are feeling. Can you guess which kiddo felt tired when he got home? Try it! Give your kids a blank piece of paper with a 4 inch square drawn on it. Tell them to draw a line that shows how their day went. Fill it with lines and patterns to represent the different things that happened during the day. Show us what they make!
Ten years ago, if you had asked me what I would be doing, it would certainly not be teaching art classes. As a child, I loved watching my mom sew, I would make small projects with my Girl Scout troop, and remember sewing matching shorts with my high school friends. I made my first quilt the summer before I went away to college. I have always enjoyed crafting – making beaded jewelry, scrapbooking, and putting together fun projects for the kids I babysat or my own younger siblings. My love of crafts has followed me into adulthood. My home is scattered with a handmade decor, carefully assembled scrapbooks, and several memory quilts. I love when I get the chance to make a Halloween costume or a Christmas or birthday gift for a friend/family member. Despite my love for crafting, I readily admit that my drawing, painting and expressive art skills could use a bitsome a lot of work. I remember painting a dresser with my college roommates. One drawer had beautiful flowy flowers, another had amazing geometric designs, the other was an adorable cityscape. Mine, well, mine looked like a kindergartner did it… star. heart. rainbow. cloud. That dresser is now gone (good riddance), and my fabulous art skills remain. Fortunately, I also discovered an alternate career path in the event that artist didn’t pan out.
That leads us to where I am today. I find that I had less and less time for crafting as I am in the throws of homework, soccer, music lessons and scouting activities for my three very active children. I am the co-leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop, manage my son’s soccer team, and found that I have very little time to spend making crafts and putting together scrapbooks. I am a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) and have enjoyed every minute of it! I love working with kids, helping them navigate their individual challenges to conquer their everyday activities.
Several years ago, I was feeling like I was constantly struggling to find “me time”. I was working in the school district, treating oodles of children during the school day, shuttling my own children to the various and assorted activities in the afternoon and finally getting to my paperwork in the evening. Although my crafting tendencies have carried over somewhat into my professional life, there was still something missing. Kelly and I came to the same realization at the same time in our lives. We needed to do something about it. Our combined experiences and professional backgrounds led us to form Color, Construct, Create Studios.
Now, using my background as an OT, I can facilitate our budding artists sensory, fine, and visual motor skills through art. A pediatric occupational therapist facilitates a child’s whole body development through activities of daily living. During art class, we work on pencil grip, scissor skills, sensory processing, drawing and visual perceptual skills. We interact with our peers to share supplies, take turns on sensory equipment (yes, we have sensory equipment in our art studio… isn’t that wonderful!!!), and complete collaborative art projects. Even better, I get to craft and play away!